This month, BPF Director-General, Philip Law, discusses fighting the corner of plastics’ amongst a flurry of mainstream media attention surrounding the introduction of the recent single-use bag charge in England.
This has been a month for plastic bags! On Monday 5th October a charge of 5p per single use plastics bag, with some exceptions, came in. Retailers are allowed to distribute the proceeds to good causes in whatever direction they like.
The merits of the charge are dubious. It emerged in the last Government as a populist measure with little scientific basis. It even contradicted research that the Government itself commissioned and, which has now become buried within the depths of Defra. As I tell people, if you are going to have a plastics bag you are better off having it made from plastics than any other material. This is true from all key standpoints; environmental, resource-use, functionality and hygiene. The Government has exempted small retailers from the scheme but some would argue that the littering problem is more closely associated with purchases from small operators. Also an opportunity was lost by not encouraging retailers to use the proceeds of the charge to invest in recycling.
The media has had a field day with it. It was seized on as an opportunity to explore the environmental background to the charge, in particular plastics in the oceans. I was interviewed for BBC News on Friday, 2nd October, a piece which was screened twice – at 6.00 pm and 10.00 pm. I was at pains to point out that plastics is not the enemy. They bring very many social benefits in terms of energy savings, prevention of food waste and their contribution to healthcare. The real enemy, I said, is the mindless, irresponsible disposal of used plastics products as litter. A combination of education, public information and enforced, high penalties are the only ways to secure the necessary behavioural change. I was able to reinforce these points on a further BBC Radio programme broadcast from Swindon on Monday 5th October.
It’s a pity that whenever plastics are featured in the headline media its usually in terms of bags and litter. The innovation record, the vast bulk of other applications and the responsible disposal of plastics that has led to an impressive recycling story is ignored. You might well wonder why are we defending the plastics bag with such vigour? Well, the answer is that the restrictive approach, whether it’s a ban or a charge, can be applied to any application. If there’s a restriction today on bags, a gun toting politician might tomorrow, without thinking too much, very easily re-direct his firepower on bottles or single-use trays.
Watch Philip on the BBC by clicking the video link below: